Learn the difference between sensitised skin and sensitive skin

Sensitivity is a highly misunderstood, complex and (forgive us) sensitive topic.

Categorising your skin begins by understanding what is causing your sensitivity, so a great place to start is with our free online test.

Founder of Script Skincare, Associate Professor Greg Goodman divides the sensitive skin scale into three levels in order to make it easier to define and understand, these categories are:

  • Level 1 – Not sensitive
  • Level 2 – Mildly sensitive
  • Level 3 – Very sensitive


There are 3 main reasons we feel sensitive.

The first is what is classed as a short-term irritation. This will occur when your skin is first introduced to an irritant or a new product that over stimulates it. If this is the case, your sensitivity may subside when your skin becomes used to the product through gradual introduction. Many ingredients that are beneficial for your skin can induce a temporary reaction, which is why we always recommend you follow our guidelines for introducing a new product to your skin. In some cases, the product may have to be ceased altogether.

The second is caused by skin diseases such as rosacea or eczema, and this is where your genetics come into play. If you suffer from the ‘atopic triad’ (eczema, asthma and allergies) you are greatly predisposed to sensitive skin and will likely fall into the level 2 or 3 sensitivity category.

Thirdly, are those with a true allergy to an ingredient, in which case gradual introduction will not work. The only way to reduce your sensitive reaction is to make sure you are not in contact with your trigger. So, knowing what you’re allergic to is important so it can be avoided, you can find this out the hard way or through specialised allergy testing.

Watch this video to see sensitive skin explained in under 2 minutes

Is sensitive a skin type?

Sensitive is not a skin type, it is a condition that occurs in association with your skin type, for example you can be both dry and sensitive or have combination/ sensitive skin. This is why when you look at your own Script skin profile, you will note that in addition to your skin type you also have a separate sensitivity level. However, there is one way that your skin type and sensitivity level are similar and that is, that both live on a scale and over the course of your life due to many different influencing factors your skin will slide up and down that scale. This is why it’s important to regularly check in and reassess your skin using the Script Skincare test. This ensures that you don’t inadvertently compromise your skin barrier function and effectively make your skin more sensitive.

Level 1 – not sensitive

It is quite amazing just how insensitive the skin usually is. It is bombarded constantly by so many irritants, toxins and noxious bugs and yet for the most part just shrugs these off. Our skin’s primary function is to protect our internal organs from the world around us, it is a fortress that seems impenetrable, and for the majority of the time, in the majority of people, it is. Not sensitive means that at the time of taking the test you are lucky enough to have very little that is causing irritation (at least to your skin.)

Level 2 – mildly sensitive

Generally the people that fall into this category are those that are currently, or have historically, experienced short-term irritability. Certain skin products can cause irritation, as can skin procedures, medications, the weather and other aspects of daily life. The skin, being the remarkable organ it is, will often adapt and in many cases will then be able to tolerate its new conditions. Or, in the case of skincare, may actually benefit from the new product, after a weaning in period. This short-term irritability is very common. Products containing ingredients such as vitamin A (retinol) predictably induce this type of temporary intolerance, but in the long run are hugely beneficial for your skin.

Long term inflammation plays a role in many of our skin concerns and can also be responsible for a rise in sensitivity. Here we see inflammation being measured on the VISIA® Complexion Analysis System at the Script Skincare store in South Yarra, before and after a combination of active skincare use and a series of Healite II treatments. 

Level 3 – very sensitive

True sensitivity can be different in each individual as it depends on what the cause is. It can be:

  • a complete intolerance to anything except the most basic pH balanced products. These are people who may have several allergies and because of this they just can’t find a product that is tolerable. Often, they will need speciality allergy testing in order to determine what they can and can’t tolerate.
  • a skin disease that flares and subsides, such as rosacea. In this case a product that was fine today may not be tomorrow, making this category very frustrating.

To learn more about rosacea, click here.

  • or it could be an unavoidable genetic predisposition (yes you may be able to blame your parents for this as well), which will make it a lifelong battle. See our discussion above about the atopic triad. For these people their skin feels perennially itchy, usually eczema is to blame and the number of products they require to attain some normality may also become a source of irritation or allergy. This group may even become allergic to cortisone creams, which are the most potent anti-allergy products we have to use on the skin. These people are unable to use most active skincare and can really only hope to manage the sensitivity of their skin by eliminating as many potential irritants as possible. A case of less is more. We recommend that those of you who fall into this category be under the guidance of a doctor.

The pH of our skin

The optimal pH value of our skin lies between 4.7 and 5.75, a pH of 7 is considered neutral. Anything below that is acidic and above it alkaline, so skin’s natural pH is mildly acidic. We are taught that acids are bad things, the stuff of James Bond and torturers. However, our skin is acidic and this quality is an important part of our barrier function, protecting us from some of the nasty bugs that attempt to take up residence on our skin surface. The most important thing for those of us that are sensitive, is to try our best to maintain our skin’s microbiome and barrier function.

Soap, be it the old fashion bar or the more modern liquid, are alkaline and alter the flora of bugs that flourish on the surface, actually making it an unhealthier place, full of inflammation and potential infection. Soaps also act as a sort of parasite, leaching on to the good oils that help keep our barrier tight, dissolving them and further wrecking our skin. For anyone who has any degree of sensitivity, the first thing to do is find basic products (cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen) that are acid based and therefore kind to the skin, and for many this will be enough to keep sensitivity at bay. Remember that the barrier function, once disturbed takes many months to restore itself to a normal state, so be patient after you make a change.

How do I manage my sensitive skin?

Sometimes, the best way to solve the problem is to ask more questions. Our Script Skincare team are always here to listen, so booking a free consultation in store might be the best option to get you started. If this isn’t possible, begin by taking our test, which is designed to get to the heart of your concerns and provide you with products that work. You can then always give one of our stores a call to chat through your options or send us an email at hello@scriptskincare.com

Although there are active skincare products designed to support sensitive skin, we do recommend speaking to one of our team members if you have questions.

What are the best skincare ingredients to look for in order to reduce my sensitivity

Aloe Vera


Coenzyme Q10

DNA Repair Enzymes

Green Tea


Pre & Probiotics

Shea butter

Stem Cells

Vitamin A (retino) – seek advice first

Vitamin B family

Vitamin E (tocopherol)


What are the best skin boosting treatments that won't flare my skin?

Healite II LED

Hydrafacial Treatment

Intense Pulsed Light Treatment (IPL) Limelight

Intense Pulsed Light Treatment (IPL) Venus Versa

Laser Genesis


Skin Peels

Venus Diamond Polar RF Skin Tightening


About the author

Our founder, dermatologist Assoc Professor Greg Goodman is Chief of Surgery at the Skin and Cancer Foundation (now Skin Health Institute) and Adjunct Associate Professor with Monash University. He is a go-to dermatology industry-insider for Vogue, Elle and Cleo — amongst others, and consults on pores, skin pigmentation, ageing and acne. Greg has over 30 years of experience both academically and professionally. He harnessed this knowledge and experience to create Script and take the confusion out of choosing skincare products. To learn more about Greg click here.

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